Aberdeen is still set to get a new Royal Farms convenience store on Route 40, but it will be on the former site of the Knights Inn Hotel near Edmund Street.
On Wednesday, the city's planning commission approved a preliminary site plan for the property, which would include a gas station and car wash.
The location is across the street from the site originally proposed, in the pocket of Newton Road, Route 40 and Route 7.
The business would sit on a 1.74-acre site that is one of two parcels in a strip owned by Bob Frankel, as Gerry Powell of Frederick Ward Associates told the planning commission.
The site had also been designated for Happy Harry's pharmacy and, until the recession began, a Wawa, but there are no plans for a pharmacy now, Powell said.
Public works director Matt Lapinsky recalled the former Knights Inn Hotel, which was notorious for such absentee management that homeless people began taking up residence in its rooms to watch free TV.
"My first year, we wrestled with the owner to get this place torn down so we could get something [good] put up there," Lapinsky said. "We finally got the thing torn down, which I thought was a great opportunity, a great occasion in time."
Lapinsky said he is eager to see Royal Farms come to fruition.
"It's really kind of nice to see this thing moving forward and it is our hope that this thing keeps moving forward with great speed," he said.
Jeff Bainbridge, real estate manager for Royal Farms, said the store would be built in the new Royal Farms design, similar to the one in Havre de Grace on Revolution Street that has a Tudor-style or village-like design and more stonework around the gas pumps.
The site is zoned B3, for highway commercial development, and is also in the downtown wellhead protection district.
The site across the street was likewise controversial for wellhead protection reasons, because of the proposed car wash use.
Powell said there are no plans to subdivide the property at this time.
An architectural review team had issues with signage and buffers, and wanted to see more trees and other screening, since the property backs up to a dense residential area.
Building the car wash requires a conditional use approval from the planning and public works departments because of the protection overlay district, planning and community development director Phyllis Grover said.
New apartment townhomes
A handful of rentable townhomes east of the railroad tracks at Routes 40 and 22 got preliminary approval, but the property owner will first deal with cleaning up arsenic and gasoline-related contaminants in its soil.
The Shelter Group's preliminary site plan for the Villages at Highland Commons, a 22-unit project near the Winston's Choice development, was approved by Aberdeen's planning commission Wednesday.
The project would be at Roosevelt and Polk streets. Taft Street was recently re-named Polk Street because of emergency service concerns, planning and community development Phyllis Grover said.
The Shelter Group also spearheaded the re-development of Baldwin Mill Apartments, now Highland Commons Apartments.
The developer will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. on March 27 at the Aberdeen Senior Center to explain its remediation plan through the Maryland Department of the Environment's voluntary clean-up program.
The project was originally set to move forward in December, but "one of the reasons we've been delayed is there are some environmental contaminants at the site," Maria Miller, senior development director for The Shelter Group, said.
She said petrol contaminants were found in the ground from an underground storage tank, and some spikes in the arsenic levels were also found.
The contaminants were only found in the top foot of soil, which will be removed and replaced with new soil, she said.
"Our goal is to completely abate the site," she said. "We're holding ourselves to the highest standard… Now we're anxious to get going and hope to break ground this summer."
The site will also have a deed restriction for water because some signs of petrol contamination were found in the water, she said.
"This [contamination] has been degrading for the past 30 years, the levels are fairly low, but our response on the water issue was to have a deed restriction in case the property at some point would transfer hands, that if someone at some point was to have well water instead of public water, they would know [about water contamination]," she said.
Planning commission members, and city officials, did not seem to have any problem with the proposal and commended The Shelter Group for being proactive.
"I think that's very commendable on The Shelter Group to take the initiative for that cleanup action," commission member Nancy Kosko said. "I'm sure that's why [MDE] looked at you cross-eyed, because they're used to dealing with recalcitrant [owners]. That's great, you'll be able to tell residents it's being cleaned up."
Commission president Joe Swisher said he wants to see trash in the area between The Shelter Group and the railroad tracks cleaned up, but nevertheless praised the developer.
"I think what you've done over there with the project you've already rebuilt, you've done a nice job," Swisher said.
The developer also wants to build an "energy station," with exercise and stretching equipment for older children or teenagers, because the community already has a tot lot and clubhouse.
The townhomes would cost an initial $500 to $1,100 monthly to rent.